Artist Tschabalala Self’s work has hung on the walls of galleries all over the world: from the Museum of Sex and London’s Parasol Unit to Frieze New York and Art Basel in Switzerland. The American artist has spent the past couple of years solidifying her now well-established name in the art industry through her large-scale depictions of black and female bodies. The portraits depict the figures in a number of different situations and scenarios; from picking out ice creams at the local bodega to — in more abstract artworks — posing in front of unidentified backdrops in various colours.
“I mostly draw inspiration from my own experiences. My new body of work is about my neighbourhood, Harlem,” Tschabalala tells It’s Nice That. “The figures in my paintings are both real and imaginary. The scenarios depicted are mostly fictional.” Tschabalala is currently participating in Harlem’s Studio Museum’s renowned artist-in-residency programme, a scheme that has been running since 1968 in order to promote and advance the work of artists of Africa and Latino descent. Tschabalala’s vivid reimagining of everyday moments in the lives of ordinary people allow her to represent and celebrate experiences that have historically been marginalised by mainstream cultural institutions.
Acrylic paint, oil pastels, linen, paper and fabric are among the materials Tschabalala uses to create her visually captivating artworks. Using recycled materials and scraps from old projects, the New York and New Haven-based artist constructs unapologetically confident women that sprawl across one side of the canvas to the other. It is this unique sense of self-assertion that reclaims female agency and produces an empowering female imagination. By highlighting powerful bodies in their daily habits and mundane actions, Tschabalala’s paintings are themselves a form of political intervention.
“My primary objective is to create works that support the black and femme imagination,” Tschabalala says. “Art changes the way people think, and thoughts control every decision made in this world.” Her art is, in this sense, a challenge to dominant voyeuristic practices directed at, what the artist calls, “the gendered and racialised body”. It invites us to see her figures outside these established frameworks and to appreciate the defiant characters exactly as they are.